Sunday, June 28, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 26, Bolen Bluff

Bolen Bluff Trail

I haven't been to Bolen Bluff at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park for years. I don't know if I got too many ticks one time, or if it was too hot some day long ago, or if it was just never part of my regular routine, but for whatever reason it had been too long. So, with early afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast every day this week, on Friday I made a morning trip across the Prairie.

Light Shining Through the Oak Leaves

The path at Bolen Bluff takes you through thick forest and then down into the bright sunshine and grass of the Prairie basin. It is not uncommon to see the wild horses or bison grazing in the open areas. I saw one lone horse off in the distance on the Prairie, but no bison this time. There is a loop through the forest and a straight walk to the platform. I decided to walk out using the right side of the loop and back on the left.

Path Through Dark Woods

I was hoping to fill in one or two of the birds I'm still missing on my June Challenge list, like a Wild Turkey or a Yellow Throated Vireo, but I didn't add anything new. I did see a beautiful Indigo Bunting, though, and that is always a good thing.

Indigo Bunting

Walking through the dark woods toward the Prairie, I enjoyed how peaceful and pleasant it was to be there. There was so much to hear and see. It was fun to watch a feeding flock of birds in the trees when the sun hit the higher branches and got the insects moving. I heard the scratchy sound of the Titmouse family, the scolding of the Carolina Wrens, the sweet call of the Chickadees and the "Quick, Gimme a Beer, Jack" of the White Eyed Vireo. The low rhythmic drone of the bullfrogs and the buzzing mosquitoes let me know I was near a swamp. A cuckoo clucked and made "kowp, kowp, kowp" sounds from a treetop. Pellets of caterpillar frass rained down as they munched on the tree leaves. I couldn't tell what kind of caterpillar, but they were big, judging from the size of the frass.

Big Oaks Full of Life

I looked up just as one deer and then another walked under a tree and stopped to look at me. They ran when they saw my camera. I had a nice private moment with a squirrel that was so deeply engaged with chewing on something that it didn't see me for a while.


Squirrel Concentrating

As I move along I have to try to remember to look up. I usually concentrate on scanning the ground for movement and color and forget that there is something to see above my head. When I do look up I see wonderful things like the soft Spanish moss hanging from the branches of the Oak Trees and patterns of leaves against the blue sky. Even after living in Florida for almost 30 years I am still surprised to see Palm Trees in the woods. But this is normal here on the edges of the Alachua Savannah.

Spanish Moss in the Treetops

Cabbage Palm in the Woods

I walked down the bluff and could see the sunny Prairie ahead. It's a straight shot out to the observation platform. The grass is tall and it is hard for a short person like me to see over it. I did see dozens of Palamedes Swallowtails, drifting and bobbing above the grasses, answering my question from the other day--it appears that the population is healthy, at least out on the Prairie.

Looking Out of the Woods

Across the Prairie to the Bluffs

Nuttall's Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii), Favorite of Butterflies

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) Growing in the Wet Prairie

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana), a Bright Splash of Color in the Prairie

I climbed up the stairs to the platform and found a Green Treefrog taking shelter from the sun in the shade of the steps. Under the next stair some other critters, Paper Wasps, Mud Daubers and Spiders had also taken shelter. Maybe not as cute as the tree frog, but they needed shelter, too.

Green Treefrog Taking Shelter

Wasps and Spiders Taking Shelter, Too

The view from the platform is pretty marvelous. There is an unobstructed 360 degree view of the area. Looking back along the trail, you can see the bluff where the trail starts. Turning, you can see the University of Florida, downtown Gainesville, and the bluffs on the other side of the Prairie at La Chua Trail.

Pano View from Platform
I hurried back through the forest. I could hear thunder in the distance and didn't want to get caught in the rain. But a snake near a tree caught my eye. It had its head in a hole in the ground. At first I thought it was eating something. But I watched it for a while after it came out again and decided that this was a female Yellow Rat Snake burrowing underground to lay eggs. When she slid back down into the hole I could see that her body was thick and swollen, I presume with eggs. She was a real beauty.

Yellow Rat Snake, Head in a Hole

Yellow Rat Snake Head

Back in the Hole--See the Bulgy Middle?

Almost In

A Little More

Almost Gone

On the same tree where the snake was burrowing I saw a beautiful Click Beetle with big black eyespots. In the excitement of seeing the snake, it was hard for me to decide which animal to watch. I could probably have gotten better shots of it with my macro lens, but I could only hold so many cameras!

Eyed Click Beetle

The skies opened up just as I left the trail, but on the way out I was able to see a sweet Downy Woodpecker climbing upside down on a branch and it seemed like a nice end to a happy hike. I got into the car just in time.

Forest Hug

Pretty Orange Mushrooms

Katydid Nymph on Tread Softly (Cnidoscolus stimulosus)

Downy Woodpecker

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